Frank Cox, who died in April 2021 at the age of 80, was a television director and producer who worked on drama at the BBC and ITV across a period of more than forty years. Although his was never a household name, he was responsible for realising some of Britain’s most popular drama series and did much to boost the position of Scottish television drama.
Cox had originally planned to become an actor. He enjoyed acting at school and featured in several student theatre productions while studying English Literature at Leeds University in the early 1960s. Although he found his interests shifting towards directing and film criticism during his studies, when he graduated in July 1962 and returned to his parents’ London home, he had, he later reported, “no clear idea of what to do for a living, other than a vague desire to be an actor”. Cox applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and did what he recalled as “a rather sad audition”. RADA did not find in his favour. He later suggested this was fortunate “because, being so enormously tall – I’m six-foot five – I would never have got work as an actor. Well, at least that’s my excuse for what is, basically, lack of acting ability!” Read more... (1892 words, 9 images)
Call the Midwife series two episode five Writer: Heidi Thomas; Director: China Moo-Young
Call the Midwife often makes skilful use of editing to interweave its lead characters with its guest characters. This aids storytelling, heightens our understanding of characters in their social environment and at times even complicates the position of the midwives in that environment. This essay will explore editing and other aspects of form in two sequences from Call the Midwife series two episode five, to explore the ways in which the problems of guest character Nora Harding are interwoven with two lead characters: the first sequence is a well-executed piece of storytelling, whilst the second is an extraordinary use of technique to devastating effect.
Nora Harding (Sharon Small) is married with eight children and is pregnant again but makes it clear to midwife Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) that she wants to get rid of the baby: this makes Jenny uncomfortable and the systemic limits of her role become clear as her diligent advice about getting contraceptive advice after the birth clashes with her witnessing of Nora’s overcrowded rat-infested flat. The council cannot house eight children – they insist that the family cannot be relocated until a four-bedroom house is available, but they are not building such houses – and the National Health Service does not currently cover contraception. Nora cannot cope and is suicidal. She ultimately takes the only action that she can given the laws of the time: illegal abortion. Read more... (6434 words, 41 images)
Play for Today Writer: Colin Welland; Producer: Kenith Trodd; Director: Roy Battersby
This essay continues from Part 1.
Early in Leeds United!, Annie (Teresa Anne Keegan, played by Josie Lane) walks along early morning streets, picking up a friend and arriving at the bus stop on her journey to work. An ambitious crane shot accompanies her walk, leaves her in order to reverse across a street and rises above outhouses to find her further on. As she walks, we hear a male voice-over set out her new contract, the terms of which have reduced her rights. This sequence “set the tone”, according to Clive James:
ably combining the humanist touch with the analytical glance. […] their company contracts were read out in plummy tones on voice-over. ‘The company has no contractual pension arrangements covering your employment.’ Which meant that you work for half a century and they scrap you.
This practice was so common that Welland heard about another example just a few weeks before the play was broadcast: “a 61-year-old seamstress who works in the same clothing factory as Colin Welland’s mother-in-law in Leeds was made redundant. She had worked in the same place for 25 years but because she was over retiring age she was not entitled to any redundancy pay.” Welland’s response: “Bastards, they are”. Read more... (5957 words, 6 images)
Four parts. Writer: Stephen Gallagher; Producer: John Nathan-Turner; Director: Paul Joyce
Warriors’ Gate was a visually inventive, conceptually ambitious and idiosyncratic Doctor Who serial, but also a fraught one for Paul Joyce, its director. The disagreements behind the scenes have been well documented, and are often discussed as a marker or consequence of the serial’s ambition. I’ve researched this serial in the BBC Written Archives Centre production file on Warriors’ Gate and the archive of writer Stephen Gallagher that is held by Hull History Centre, studying everything from multiple script drafts and notes on script meetings through to the specs for the set’s timber framed gimbal mirror and a list of supplementary payments for overtime and wig fittings (at productive moments in these archives it was of course difficult not to declare that “I’m finally getting something done!” ). However, this essay is not a blow-by-blow production history but a discussion of Joyce’s direction: partly showing how Joyce’s approach helps to convey the serial’s ideas, but mainly showing how debates about the future of Doctor Who’s production methods and the spaces of television circulated around Warriors’ Gate. Read more... (7961 words, 13 images)